MOB'S GRIP LOOSE IN CAPITAL DISTRICT

Harvy Lipman and Michael Gormley Staff writers
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Sunday, February 9, 1992

Organized crime in the Capital District has many faces.


From local operatives banding together to a few Mafia associates to Chinese and Colombian gangs, the strings tied to the region's various criminal enterprises often are pulled by elements of a diverse kind of organized crime. Don't expect to find the Godfather lording over a commission of Mafia crime families. State and federal authorities agree that the Capital District doesn't have a mob structure like the ones in New York City and many other urban areas.


The region does have independent criminal groups that oversee such traditional rackets as prostitution, loan sharking and gambling. Law enforcement experts say there's also an increasing presence of Chinese gangs that prey on the Asian- American community.


Some of the criminal activity is operated by men with connections to the Mafia - that structured syndicate of Italian crime families also known as the mob or La Cosa Nostra. From time to time, mob- linked individuals pop up in the region.


The most recent one to surface is Paul "The Mad Sheed" Sheedy, the former weight lifter who was arrested on weapons charges Jan. 14 near the Albany County Airport.


Federal, state and local law enforcement sources linked Sheedy to John Natarelli, an East Greenbush- area resident who they said was connected to the mob through his uncle Pasquale Natarelli. The elder Natarelli has been identified by the FBI as a capo


in the Buffalo mob.


Several investigators, however, described Sheedy and John Natarelli as "mob wannabes" rather than actual members of La Cosa Nostra.


"They know people in the mob, and they like to hang around the bars, act tough, and tell people they're in the mob," said one high- ranking law enforcement official. "But they're not."


Loose talk of even looser connections to organized crime can win criminal friends and influence others, but sometimes the claims are true, said Assistant U.S. Attorney David R. Homer.


"While the traditional organized crime may not be present in this area like in New York City, it certainly is present in some degree and it does affect how business is done here," he said. By "traditional organized crime," Homer said he meant La Cosa Nostra.


Without question, the local man best known for his alleged links to the mob in recent years was Paul "Legs" DiCocco Sr., who died in 1989. DiCocco was arrested and convicted numerous times on gambling and other charges, and had connections to Carmine Galante, whose reign as head of the Bonanno crime family ended in gunfire at a Brooklyn restaurant in 1979.


"Periodically there's been speculation about Paulie DiCocco," said David Luitweiler, first deputy superintendent of the State Police. "Was Paulie a mob guy? We know that he owned property jointly, that there was a connection between him and Carmine Galante. Does that mean Paul was a mob guy? I don't think it does."


"There is a presence here," Homer said of the mob, but he wouldn't discuss what investigations might be going on. "The presence is most significant in the traditional areas of vice - gambling, prostitution and loan sharking."


Bookmaking is the one area in which Luitweiler agreed that there is a direct link between local activities and the mob - although not in the sense that local bookies are controlled by the mob families.


"They're still involved with a mob- dominated industry, because they have to lay that money off," Luitweiler said. Bookies "lay off" large bets with bigger gambling operations in other parts of the country, which guarantee to cover their losses, if necessary. In exchange, the mob-controlled operation takes a cut of the bookies' profits.


"That all goes into a system controlled by the mob," Luitweiler added. "So the mob's presence is here in the sense that the bookmakers can operate."


What about the Mafia's other traditional moneymaking activities, such as labor racketeering, construction industry corruption and the garbage industry?


"Basically the industry in this area is government, which - perhaps the public may not believe it - is not as susceptible to mob domination or control as things like the private business side," Luitweiler said. "We don't have a major port where they can steal things off the dock. We're not an international border crossing."


Luitweiler said he would let others "draw your own conclusions" as to why the New York City mob has never been able to penetrate the Capital District. But some - including author William Kennedy - have suggested that Albany's long-standing Democratic machine refused to let the mob take a piece of the local action.


In "O Albany!" Kennedy wrote that Albany County Democratic boss Dan O'Connell told Prohibition gangster Legs Diamond to keep his business out. Diamond obeyed.


After O'Connell's death at 91 in 1977, some New York City mob figures did attempt to horn in on the garbage-disposal business in the Capital District in the mid- and late 1980s, especially during the height of the construction and demolition debris dumping activity. Several mob- connected dumpers were involved in such dumps.


But tightened dumping rules and a crackdown by the attorney general's office pretty much put an end to the construction and demolition debris sites. At least one mob-linked garbage hauler, Thomas Accardi of Lake Ronkonkoma, Long Island, tried setting up a waste-disposal company, first in Colonie and then in Rensselaer County. State law enforcement authorities say, however, it appears that Accardi has taken his business elsewhere.


"Sometimes we give these guys too much credit for being so smart," said Capt. James Kostecki of the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Without saying whom he was referring to, Kostecki added, "One of these guys came up here to set up a garbage business and couldn't even make any money. He went broke and had to leave town."


However successful or inept the Mafia has proved at moving into the Capital District, law enforcement authorities agreed that other crime groups have made their presence felt.


"I don't think that we see any structured traditional organized- crime activity in the Albany area itself, but certainly there are groups of individuals that fit the broader area of organized crime," said John J. O'Connor, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Albany.


He said an internal FBI report scheduled for completion last week


reflected that broader scope of organized crime.


For example, local loan sharking - the lending of money at illegally exorbitant rates - is provided by both organized gangs and criminal entrepreneurs, authorities said.


Luitweiler said State Police are concerned about indications that Chinese crime gangs, which have been active in New York City for years, have begun preying on local businesses. In the past couple of years, the owners of several Chinese restaurants in the Capital District have been robbed and assaulted, and authorities believe that the crimes may be the work of Chinese gangs.


The FBI also is on the case. Agents are investigating burglaries, threats and violent crimes against Asian- Americans here and whether the crimes are a result of organized victimization of these residents.


But the big money, and the biggest interest for several organized-crime groups, is in narcotics.


The main flow of drugs into the Capital District is through dozens - if not hundreds - of independent dealers who either live in the region and make connections in New York City, Boston or Montreal, or are residents of those cities who travel here to peddle their merchandise.


"You've got a little bit of everything. This is what makes the Capital District so unique," said Robert K. Sears, senior special agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.


Since he was assigned here in 1983, the Albany office has increased from three agents covering a broad area that included Syracuse to seven agents who cover a smaller area, in addition to a 12-member Capital District Drug Task Force and an 18- member task force in Syracuse.


"I never thought you'd see cocaine labs here or Colombian cartels trying to fly into Knox, but it's happened," Sears said.


Luitweiler said the cocaine trade is controlled "100 percent at the top by the Colombian cartels." That doesn't mean that Colombians are walking the streets of Albany and Schenectady dealing drugs. But the source of supply for those who are, he said, is the cartels.


The Colombians are not alone in recognizing the profit potential of the drug trade, however. That was proven in three federal and state investigations since the mid-1980s that targeted motorcycle outlaws.


More than 30 members of the Troy and Binghamton Hells Angels chapters and the Pagans motorcycle clubs were convicted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Sharpe's Binghamton office and by the state Organized Crime Task Force.


Sharpe prosecuted the Hells Angels in Troy and Binghamton in 1985 on charges of running methamphetamines (commonly called speed), cocaine, LSD and some marijuana. Although the clubhouses were closed, Sharpe said several members of the Troy chapter fled to Schenectady.


"I don't believe we're anywhere near putting organized crime out of business," Sharpe said. "And as soon as you do, someone is there to take their place."


Homer said local, state and federal authorities in the Capital District haven't forgotten the motorcycle gang members who remain.


"They are still present, but I would say the investigations dealt a serious blow to the illegal activities," Homer said. "But the presence continues."